Shankar was born in London and her childhood was divided between London and Delhi. She is the daughter of Sukanya Shankar and Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, who was 61 when she was born. Through her father, she is also the half-sister of American singer Norah Jones (born Geetali Norah Shankar), and Shubhendra “Shubho” Shankar, who died in 1992. As a teenager, Shankar lived in Encinitas, California, and attended San Dieguito High School Academy. A 1999 honors graduate and Homecoming Queen, Anoushka decided to pursue a career in music rather than attend college
Shankar began training on the sitar with her father Ravi Shankar at the age of seven. As part of her training, she began accompanying him on the tanpura at his performances from the age of ten, soaking up the music and becoming acclimated to the stage. She gave her first public sitar performance on 27 February 1995 at the age of 13, at Siri Fort in New Delhi as part of her father’s 75th birthday celebration concert. For this solo debut, she was accompanied by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain. Her first experience in the recording studio came that same year when Angel Records released a special four-CD box set called In Celebration, to mark her father’s birthday. By the age of fourteen, she was accompanying her father at concerts around the world. At fifteen, she assisted her father on the landmark album Chants of India, produced by George Harrison. Under both their guidance, she was in charge of notation and eventually of conducting the performers who took part in the record. After this experience, the heads of Angel Records came to her parents’ home to ask to sign her, and Shankar signed her first exclusive recording contract with Angel/EMI when she was sixteen.
She released her first album, Anoushka, in 1998, followed by Anourag in 2000. In 1999 Shankar graduated from high school with honors but decided against the university in favor of beginning to tour as a solo artist. Both Shankar and her half-sister Norah Jones were nominated for Grammy awards in 2003 when Anoushka became the youngest and first woman nominee in the World Music category for her third album, Live at Carnegie Hall.
Having released three albums of Indian classical music, Shankar took several years away from recording and focused her energy on establishing herself as a solo concert performer outside of her father’s ensemble. At that time, she toured worldwide, playing an average of 50–60 concerts per year. 2005 brought the release of her fourth album RISE, her first self-produced, self-composed, non-classical album, earning her another Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary World Music category. In February 2006 she became the first Indian to play at the Grammy Awards, playing material from RISE.
Shankar, in collaboration with Karsh Kale, released Breathing Under Water on 28 August 2007. It is a mix of classical sitar and electronica beats and melodies. Notable guest vocals included her paternal half-sister Norah Jones, Sting, and her father, who performed a sitar duet with her.
In 2011 Shankar signed with record label Deutsche Grammophon as an exclusive artist. This marked the beginning of a prolific recording and creative period for Shankar, during which time she continued to refine the sitar sound and musical ideas she had become known for. She earned a third Grammy Award nomination in 2013 for Traveller, an exploration of the shared history between flamenco and Indian classical music, which was produced by Javier Limón and featured artists such as Buika, Pepe Habichuelaand Duquende. As Shankar had begun to do with Rise, she created a specially handpicked ensemble of musicians with whom to perform this cross-genre music and played over a hundred concerts worldwide in support of Traveller. In 2013 she released a personal album called Traces of You, which was released several months after the passing of her father Ravi Shankar. Produced by Nitin Sawhney, and featuring her half-sister Norah Jones as the sole vocal performer, Traces of You earned Shankar a fourth Grammy nomination in the World Music category. In July 2015 Shankar released Home, her first purely classical album of Indian Ragas. Self-composed and produced, Home was recorded over a week in October 2014 in Shankar’s new, purpose-built home-studio.
Shankar has made many guest appearances on recordings by other artists, among them Sting, Lenny Kravitz, Thievery Corporation and Nitin Sawhney. Recently, Shankar has collaborated with Herbie Hancock on his latest record The Imagine Project, and with Rodrigo y Gabriela on their album Area 52.
Duets with artists such as violinist Joshua Bell, in a sitar-cello duet with Mstislav Rostropovich, and with flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, playing both sitar and piano, Shankar has championed her father’s compositions. Shankar is also the sole performer of Ravi Shankar’s 1st and 2nd Concertos for Sitar and Orchestra, performing multiple times under legendary conductors such as Zubin Mehta. In January 2009 she was the sitar soloist alongside the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra premiering her father’s 3rd Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra, and in July 2010 she premiered Ravi Shankar’s first symphony for sitar and orchestra with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
In April 2016, Shankar performed with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja during a concert in Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany. The Raga Piloo was originally composed, performed, and recorded by Ravi Shankar as a duet with Yehudi Menuhin on the album West Meets East, Volume 2 in 1968.
Acting and writing
Shankar has also ventured into acting (Dance Like a Man, 2004) and writing. She wrote a biography of her father, Bapi: The Love of My Life, in 2002 and has contributed to various books. As a columnist, she wrote monthly columns for India’s First City Magazine for three years and spent one year as a weekly columnist for India’s second-largest newspaper, the Hindustan Times.
On 29 November 2002, Shankar was the featured performer of the “Indian” half of the Concert for George, a posthumous tribute to the life and music of George Harrison, held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. She opened the show by playing a solo sitar instrumental titled “Your Eyes”. Also on the sitar, she performed George Harrison’s “The Inner Light” with Jeff Lynne. Lastly, she conducted a new composition, Arpan, written by her father. The composition featured Eric Clapton playing acoustic guitar, and a full orchestra of Indian and Western musicians. The concert was modeled after Ravi Shankar’s benefit concert with Harrison, the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh.
Shankar was invited by Richard Gere and Philip Glass to perform in a concert at Avery Fisher Hall in 2003 in aid of the Healing the Divide: A Concert for Peace and Reconciliation. Shankar and Jethro Tull postponed a concert scheduled for 29 November 2008 in Mumbai after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. They reorganized the performance as A Billion Hands Concert, a benefit performance for victims of the attacks, and held it on 5 December 2008. Shankar commented on this decision stating that: “As a musician, this is how I speak, how I express the anger within me […] our entire tour has been changed by these events and even though the structure of the concert may remain the same, emotionally perhaps we are saying a lot more.”
Awards and honors
- British House of Commons Shield, 1998
- Woman of the Year awarded on International Women’s Day 2003 in India
- Named as one of 20 Asian Heroes by the Asia edition of Time in 2004
- Nominated for a Grammy award in 2003 in the World Music category for her third album, Live at Carnegie Hall. She was the youngest-ever and first woman nominee in this category.
- In 2005 she was nominated for another Grammy, in the Best Contemporary World Music category for her fourth album RISE.
- In 2013 she was nominated for her third Grammy, in the Best World Music category for her album Traveller.
- In 2014 she was nominated for a fourth Grammy in the Best World Music category for her album Traces of You.
- In 2015 she was nominated for a fifth Grammy in the Best World Music Category for her album “Home”.
- In 2016 she was nominated for a sixth Grammy in the Best World Music Category for her album “Land of Gold”.
- In 2012 she won Best Artist in the Songlines Music Award for her album Traveller.
- In 2017 she won the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture & Theatre Awards (ACTA) Award for Music for outstanding achievements in the Indian classical and progressive world music scenes.
- Asteroid 292872 Anoushankar, discovered by Italian amateur astronomer Silvano Casulli, was named in her honor. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 12 January 2017 (M.P.C. 103028).
Album “Love Letters”
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